What is Anxiety?

Everyone feels anxious, nervous, and worried from time to time. Situations like interviews, dating, trying something for the first time, and giving presentations are all stressful and can cause us to feel fearful or anxious.

So what is Anxiety Anyway?

Anxiety is described as a state of apprehension and worry that something bad or unpleasant is about to happen. It occurs with a range of physical symptoms that can, in themselves be disturbing. Symptoms can range from mild such as feeling uncomfortable and tense, to moderate like shortness of breath and fearfulness to severe such as feeling panic or tightness in the chest. Sometimes people feel they are going crazy or are having a heart attack.

Symptoms of Anxiety

There are many symptoms of anxiety and not everyone experiences all the symptoms in the same way. Some may feel more physical symptoms, like racing heart or shaking. Others may experience more emotional symptoms like fear or apprehension. And other may have cognitive symptoms such as racing thoughts or negative thoughts about something bad happening. In general anxiety is a combination of all three types of symptoms, physical, emotional, and thinking.

Physical Symptoms

  • Racing heart, chest pains
  • Shortness of breath or feeling like choking
  • Nausea or lightheadedness
  • Feel like can’t relax
  • Trouble falling or staying asleep
  • More physical complaints such as headaches, stomach upsets, chronic muscle tension?

Emotional Symptoms

  • Irritability and Impatience
  • Fearful, apprehensive even then there is nothing scary happening
  • Panic
  • Worrying or ruminating all the time or more than usual
  • Feel like you’re losing control

Thinking Symptoms

  • “I’m going crazy”
  • “I am dying”
  • Racing thoughts
  • Obsessive or recurring thoughts
  • Like your mind can’t settle down
  • Trouble concentrating and paying attention

When is Anxiety Normal and when is it Sign of a Problem?

These symptoms of anxiety are normal for everyone when we are faced with an anxiety-producing situation. Not only a thought or an idea, but faced with an actual event. The anxiety symptoms will pass once the situation is over.

But when anxiety is intense, frequent and takes a while to recover from this can be a sign of a problem with anxiety. If anxiety interferes with aspects of life, like missing work or school, preventing work or school performance, avoidance of certain people, places and things’, and getting in the way with a social life then it is possible an anxiety disorder has developed.

Anxiety Disorders

Anxiety disorders are among the most prevalent mental health problems experienced by Canadians; 10.4% – 24.9% will experience an anxiety disorder in their lifespan.[1] Anxiety Disorders are very treatable, make an appointment with your doctor or with a psychologist for an assessment and treatment recommendations.

There are several types of Anxiety Disorders. We will post about each so you can learn more

  • Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD) – chronic worrying accompanied with physical symptoms.
  • Panic Attacks and Panic Disorder – sudden onset of specific set of physical symptoms of panic.
  • Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD) – recurrent unwanted, negative thoughts (obsessions) that create anxiety and compel repetitive behaviours to reduce the anxiety (compulsions).
  • Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder – Presence of persistent frightening thoughts, images, and flashbacks along with physical and emotional symptoms following a traumatic event.
  • Social Anxiety – fear of embarrassment or humiliation in the face of social or performance situations, accompanied with physical symptoms of anxiety.
  • Specific Phobia – marked and persistent fear of specific objects or situations, such as dogs, heights, darkness.

Anxiety Treatment

Anxiety is highly treatable and there are many treatment options. We will present a short-list today, read our post and newsletter for ways you can manage your anxiety.

Psychotherapy – involves talking with a psychologist about the causes of anxiety and how to manage, reduce, and eliminate it. A psychologist can help you work through the thoughts, emotions, and behaviours that trigger anxiety, as well as develop coping skills. Psychotherapy also focuses on techniques to control the physical symptoms of anxiety such as relaxation and breathing techniques, mindfulness, and decreasing of muscle tension.

Self-Care – there are many lifestyle choices you can make to reduce your anxiety such as adequate sleep, healthy food choices, social support, leisure activities, having down time, exercise, support groups, managing stress, and reducing stimulants such as caffeine, drugs, and alcohol.


[1] Public Health Agency of Canada, The Human Face of Mental Health and Mental Illness in Canada, 2006, http://www.phac-aspc.gc.ca/publicat/human-humain06/pdf/human_face_e.pdf

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